Andrea Koopman

It was January 2010, at the age of 22 when I was told I had the "C" word, and it would change my life forever. My story starts that prior fall. I simply thought I hurt my ankle and it was just taking a long time to heal. I was young, healthy, and active--having something terribly wrong never crossed my mind. The pain got worse, so I finally sought a podiatrist thinking a simple fix would do the trick. I got an x-ray, and was referred to see a foot & ankle specialist. Then I got a CT scan, and was referred to see an orthopedic surgeon. When I got there, still no answer, but yet another referral to a foot & ankle specialist at the U of I Hospitals. At this point I was sure I'd find out what was wrong. Never did I expect to be so upset, because I got referred again to another specialist. My fifth- Dr Buckwalter, an orthopedic tumor specialist at UIHC.

Dr. Buckwalter broke the news to me and my parents that he believed I had a form of bone cancer called parosteal osteosarcoma. A rare form of bone cancer that grows from the surface of the bone. A week later, a biopsy confirmed his suspicion. The good news was that this is typically a slow growing tumor and usually carries favorable outcomes. The bad news was that it was in a very difficult location to make surgery alone successful. Chemotherapy would be tried in an attempt to save me from becoming an amputee.

I met my oncologist, Dr. Milhem, who lead my chemotherapy treatments. I met a wonderful woman, Wendee Beranek RN, his nurse, who helped me through my treatments as well. I had two rounds of Doxorubicin and Cisplatin, three weeks apart before I had surgery. The side effects were terrible. Nausea ranking up there as the worst. I got some sort of cocktail that took me out of my misery while I was in the hospital both times. That time frame was much of a blur.

Late March 2010, I had my tumor removed. Surgery went well, they expected near normal function back in my ankle and I had a 90% kill rate with just 2 rounds of chemo. All the tumor was thought to be gone. I was in a cast for a few weeks and used crutches for several months. Things from a foot & ankle perspective were good.

However things took a bit of a turn in May when follow up on a small nodule on my thyroid turned into another cancer diagnosis. I was diagnosed with another primary cancer- papillary thyroid carcinoma. Completely unrelated to the bone. Good news- surgery alone took care of it.

I moved on with life through all of this. I graduated nursing school, married by best friend, and started my first job as a nurse. Life was good. Scans remained clear for about a year, however spots did come back at the original site. After months of monitoring and a biopsy- it was confirmed my tumor was back. It was thought that tiny cells may have remained from my original surgery. At this point I learned my only option left was to amputate my leg below the knee to get rid of this cancer. August 19, 2011 I had the amputation surgery.

A week later was the Courage Ride event and since I was in no shape to bike, my husband made me a cart to ride in. He pulled me 27 miles. He was quite the rock star! It was so enjoyable to still be present given my circumstances. Many family and friends helped support me and other sarcoma patients that day, biking along with my husband and I.

It's almost 3 years since I lost part of my lower left leg. My life is back to a new "normal." I'm back to work, and I enjoy biking and jogging in my free time. Most importantly, I've since been cancer free!